At an age when most teenagers are agonising over their pimples and awkward social relationships, a chosen few are blazing a trail of real achievement. The Google Online Science Fair has declared the winners – and girls have pipped boys to the post. The overall winner – Shree Bose will travel on a National Geographic expedition to the Galapagos Islands – to do her own tests on marine life. Her entry uncovered problems in ovarian treatment. Another winner, Naomi Shah looked at quantifying the effect environmental pollution had on lung function. These are teenagers – but given the breadth and depth of information and facilities they now have at their disposal, they are dreaming up solutions to global problems. In the process, they get a headstart with prime internships at Google or Lego or National Geographic. And these companies benefit from a completely fresh perspective from bright young sparks. Harini Ravichandran from India was a finalist and her project was on handling the sag in voltage that all Indian homes and industries wrestle with – for which she came up with a cost-effective solution
We’ve come a long way from the trials and tribulations that Ramanujam had to go through before he finally got through to Hardy and left a legacy in mathematics that is still being mined today. There, the effort was in getting people to take notice. Now, it is as if talent will not have to go waste if there is a little effort and persistence. With Intel running its Science Fairs for over a decade, the projects, again from teenagers, makes for very impressive reading. The benefits cut both ways – companies get intelligent young minds to come up with new ideas uncluttered by the normal corporate brainstorming, where there may be several egos and other issues involved. The students get a platform they can capitalise on. For both Google and Intel, the costs of running the contest is inversely proportional to the benefits they derive.
We see the same discovery in the popular reality shows, like singing and dancing, where children get a real taste of the big time. But the jury is out on whether these kinds of programs actually harm more than help. Getting fame and cartloads of money at a young age can turn impressionable young minds into hedonistic adults. So the question really is – should you get a chance at the big time when you are still a teenage prodigy? Or is it best to get success when you can handle it better? We know what happened to Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. So, maybe if your talent is in the mental arena, an early discovery is good. But not so good if you are in entertainment and hit your peak in your teens. I know I have left sports out of this, where your best years are before you turn 25. Should Tiger Woods be the exception or the rule?